Utility Direction for Smart Cities – Driving the Industry

At the most recent AWWA Management Conference in March 2019, a Smart Cities and Internet of Things Workshop was held. During this time, several Utility speakers provided information on how they were approaching smart cities along with the challenges that they faced. What stood out to me during this time was the number of different thoughts on what a smart city or smart utility constitutes, along with how hesitant the participants seemed to be towards implementation. Many of the general comments indicated that Utilities would prefer to let vendors drive the direction by providing devices that would fit their use cases. One final concern was related to internal IT capability to properly maintain all of these devices once they were deployed.

As I began to think more about this throughout the week, it troubled me that the Utilities and Municipalities seemed hesitant to push the vendors by presenting their use cases and / or demanding more open standards network capabilities to open up potential use case functionality. Utilities and Municipalities are in a unique position to avoid some of the failures of Automated Metering by ensuring their voices are heard while these products and solutions are being developed, and they should take complete advantage of this opportunity. In speaking with vendors, I believe they are in the opposite position of the customers and are awaiting more feedback to push development towards the most likely use cases. I believe we need to begin industry-level discussions now, to ensure the customers are being heard by the vendors and a dialogue is started before products are developed into a closed system and the vendor’s engineering resources are left to create functionality without direction.

A true Smart City or Smart Utility implementation will be difficult, and breaking down internal silos is essential to ensure all stakeholders are participating and a solid master plan can be created for direction. Management should create a steering committee internally made up of all stakeholders and provide the committee with the directives and goals to make the implementation successful across all operational groups. My concern for the ultimate future of Internet of Things and Smart Organizations is a ‘network for everything’, where we see one entity with a purpose-built network for every individual problem they’re trying to solve, without direction and participation from . This brings me to my last point, which is data ingestion. The most important part of a truly Smart Organization will be their ability to act on the data that is being received. As more devices and more networks are layered onto an organization, it will become harder for the silos to utilize data across the business units to make effective decisions; ultimately this will lead to the value of the ‘smart implementation’ never being fully realized.

What are your thoughts on Smart Cities / Utilities? What is your approach plan? Do you have data utilization plan once all of your devices are installed and reporting?